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My Turn: Take heed if you're schlepping around a 'portable safe'

Cash, credit cards and beloved photographs. Health, home and car insurance cards. Driver’s license, loyalty cards and gift cards. Retail cards, library card and important receipts. Business cards and doctor appointment reminder cards. And for absolutely no reason, my checkbook and register. All these things and more were in my wallet when it vanished recently at the Fort Lauderdale airport.

And since then, I’ve spent days and days painstakingly trying to recreate what filled the "portable safe" I carried with me that day. Pick up your own wallet. Marvel at how big and fat it is. Then ask yourself, “How will I feel if I lose it?”  

Over the years, I’ve had at least three dreams in which my wallet was stolen. Each time I awoke sweating, heart pounding. Oh, the horror! I finally heeded the subconscious warning fueling these nightmares when I got a new wallet a few years ago. And I whittled down its contents considerably. But like a garden, it needed frequent weeding if it was to stay under control. Within a month it regrew, bulging and chaotic.

Losing your wallet seems a rite of passage almost everyone has endured. By some estimates 1,000 wallets are lost or stolen every two minutes in the United States, just under 300,000 a year. A London study found that one in five lost wallets were returned, although three out of five people said they’d return a wallet they found. Half lost in a museum were returned — none lost in cafes or on public transportation. What does that say?

My grandmother’s wallet was a change purse with cash, subway tokens and Medicare card. My mother’s had cash, one credit card, her driver’s license, her health insurance card and a picture of her grandchildren. One daughter has a small wallet with a just a few cards. The other doesn’t own a wallet, using her phone case to hold a credit card, a Metro card, her driver’s license and her health insurance card. Apple Pay negates the need for much cash nowadays, and all photos are digital. It seems I was the only one who needed a survival kit, every slot and pocket filled to safely negotiate the wilderness of my life.

The moment I realized my wallet was gone, a wave of overwhelming stress nearly drowned me. In this age of identity theft, whoever had my wallet could, at that very moment, be applying for a mortgage somewhere. The reality of reconstructing normalcy rivaled my nightmares. 

I had an important doctor’s appointment the next day that had to be canceled because I had no identification. There was driving to the Department of Motor Vehicles without a license. And realizing I had no change for the meter at the Department of Social Security. Then closing my bank account with no idea how many checks were outstanding. I waited for new credit cards while figuring out exactly which paid what bills and subscription services; I created new passwords along the way when for some reason the one I had no longer worked. I experienced my first migraine in a decade.  

If I had one word to describe the entire experience it would be “awful.” I won't say tragic because I’m a grown-up acquainted with tragic, and I know the difference. But I was shocked at how unhinged the experience left me.

I’m still preoccupied with why whoever found my wallet couldn’t just take what they wanted and leave the rest at the lost-and-found. I’m still waiting for the other shoe to drop — what else might have been in there that I haven’t yet realized is gone? How many months before I can cancel the fraud alert?  

And I’m still annoyed at myself for all the gift cards I never used, not to mention the free cappuccinos I won’t be drinking.

So pardon the sermonizing. Rather, consider this a public service announcement: Can you name everything in your wallet? Try right now. If you can’t remember if something is in there, you probably shouldn’t be schlepping it everywhere. 

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